Christ-like Life (Romans 7: 1 - 17)
Paul introduces the Gospel through which God reveals his righteousness in this passage. Paul emphasizes how the Gospel reveals God’s righteousness. Righteousness connotes that God is right and just in all His doings. This righteousness comes upon everyone who believes!
In Rom. 1:18-3:20, Paul writes that all, Gentiles and Jews alike are sinful before God and therefore under condemnation.
Gentiles are under condemnation because even though they knew God through creation and through the inner voice of conscience, they have suppressed the truth and indulged into immoral acts that cannot be justified even according to human standards.
The Jews and even Jewish leaders are under condemnation because they knew the law and even taught others about it, but they themselves did not follow it.
In Rom 3:21-5:11, Paul shares that God’s righteousness comes upon all those who believe – only by faith, not based on doing works (or as Paul says, “apart from the law” – Rom. 3:21)!
He takes Abraham’s example, who was credited righteousness because he trusted in God, apart from the law.
What to believe? That Jesus the consequences of my sins upon himself as he died on my behalf and paid the price of my sins. Because of Christ’s work for our salvation, we now have peace with God.
In Rom. 5:22-6:23, Paul shows how our problem is not that we sin, but that fact that we have a sinful nature – something that we have inherited from our fore-parents – Adam and Even. Since we are sinners by birth, therefore we sin! And because we sin, we have been under the death sentence.
Since God’s righteousness is now revealed in Lord Jesus Christ, whom Paul calls ‘the Second Adam’, there is hope for the sinners. Because Jesus died on behalf of sinful humans, it means that our death sentence has already been carried out before God and that God would not be righteous if he punishes again - those who trust on Jesus.
Thus, when we identify ourselves with Christ on the cross, we become part of the lineage of Jesus Christ – the Second Adam. Since, he is not under condemnation, we are also justified in Him through faith.
Trusting in Christ not only leads to justification of life, but it also reconciles us with God – as the dividing wall of sin that separated us from God has been removed through the death and resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ.
We are going to glance through Romans 7, which has been one of the most researched and debated chapters in the whole Bible.
Though there are different views, I believe that in this chapter Paul shares his main ideas. Particularly, it discusses a disciple’s struggle with ‘Sin’ through referring to his personal experience or as some would say, experiences of Adam-like person. In any case, it is clear that whether Paul actually underwent the experiences shared in Romans 7 literally or he simply uses first person pronoun ‘I’ to present a Adam-like person, experience described here are also shared by the disciples of Christ.
Before looking at what it says, let us look at what it does not say:
1. It does not talk about a non-disciple, who is trying to live a holy life based on his own strength.
2. It does not describe the life of carnal believers or followers of Christ – the self-centered Christians who do/don’t do things based on what is convenient for them.
3. It also does not talk about a disciple of Christ, who has not yet received baptism of the Holy Spirit.
4. Finally, it does not buttress the Greek idea that matter is evil and flesh is weak.
1. Actual Nature of Christian Life (Romans 7:4-6): Paul describes the life of a follower of Christ, using the analogy of a woman. He writes that when a woman loses her husband, she is freed from the marriage covenant with her deceased husband; and as a result, she is free to marry another. In this analogy, the first husband represents the ‘law’ and the second ‘Christ.’
Paul goes on to write that once humans were bound to the law - the first husband (either the Mosaic law or the law of God that is written in the conscience of all men), and it resulted in a life of sin and death.
But the good news as Paul writes is that all those who have entrusted their lives to Christ, have died to the law (v. 4a) through the death of Christ, and are therefore no longer bound to the law, but are now bound to Christ, so that we may bear fruit for God (v.4b).
How does the death of Christ impact my life?
In Gal. 2:20, Apostle Paul says that he (and in essence all those who trust in Christ) have been crucified with Christ. Thus, in the spiritual realm, when Christ was dying on the cross, he was not along but we were in Him.
Since those who entrusted their lives to Christ were with Him as he was on the cross, we also reap the consequences of his death. And as Paul shared in verse 4a, one of the consequences is that the disciples of Christ died to the law, so that they might belong to Christ.
And in 2 Cor. 5:17 Paul already said that if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation. Likewise, according to John 5:24, those who trust in God through believing in Christ, have passed from death to life.
But the greater joy is not just that we have become a new creation and that we have passed from death to life, but that we have been reconciled with God through the death of Christ.
Paul explains this reconciliation process in Rom. 5:12-21, by using yet another analogy – the Analogy of the First and the Second Adam.
Paul says in Rom. 5:18 that just like the disobedience of one man (the First Adam) led to the condemnation of all human race, therefore, the obedience of another man (the Second Adam) led to the justification of all. We have already seen how Apostle Paul has declared that when Christ was dying on the cross, he (and in essence all of humanity) was in him.
Since, God’s penalty for the sins of the whole world was laid on Christ, therefore all those who have trusted upon Him have been justified and have now come in right relations with God (Rom. 5:19; 11); In other words, our relationship with God that got broken because of the First Adam has now been re-joined through the death of the Second Adam.
And, since we belong to God, we are now called to bear fruit for Him. In verse 6 shows how a disciples of Christ bears fruit for God – through serving according to the new way of the Holy Spirit.
What can we learn about the new life in Christ?
All those who surrender their lives to Jesus, they die to the law so that they might life for Christ
-They get cut off from the genealogy of the first Adam and get united to the genealogy of the Second Adam. As a result, they are justified and come in the right relationship with God.
-Through being united with Christ, they are now an altogether a new creation - 2 Cor. 5:17.
- They have passed from death to life
- They are called to bear fruit for God;
- They are serving/living according to the Holy Spirit
2. Law is Righteous (Romans 7:7-8, 12, 14):
Based on the analogy, the readers might think that the ‘law’ was the culprit that made us sin and brought death on all mankind. But Paul removes this misconception by asking a rhetorical question in verse 7: is the law sin? And he responds, NO! In fact, in verse 12, Paul says that the law is holy and righteous and good. And Paul highlights the purpose of law and says that it acts as a spiritual thermometer that produces consciousness of ‘Sin.’
Paul says, “I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” (Rom. 7:7b). In fact, coveting was there in our hearts since the beginning, but through the law, it was identified – it produced consciousness of sins. In this sense, the law is good, because it caused us to diagnose our true spiritual and moral condition which was difficult to diagnose. It acted like a CT Scan machine which does not produce sickness or leads people into sickness, but which reveals the sickness to what it is.
And as far as the law is concerned, the verdict is that all have sinned and fallen short of fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law – Rom. 3:23. Again in Rom. 6:23, Apostle Paul writes that “the wages of sin is death.”
Then Paul goes on to ask another rhetorical question in verse 13, “did that which is good, become cause of death to me? Again, the answer is, NO!
If law was not the cause of my death then what was? Paul responds to this question in verse 8, and says that law did not become the cause of our death, but ‘Sin’, which had always been there in our bodies in a hidden form, but as Paul says in verse 9, it became activated (sprang to live) even more powerfully through the ‘law’ eventually becoming a cause of my death.
It is like this: when you tell a child not to open my cupboard until I come back, he gets a deep desire to open it and see what’s in it. So, when God spoke you shall not steal, we get tempted to steal even more because of the sinful nature that is inside us – that encourages us to break the law.
Here is what Paul shared in this section:
- Law is not evil or sin, but it is righteous
- Law does not cause death in us
- Law brings consciousness of sins
- The knowledge of ‘law’ opened the opportunity for sin to get activated and produce death in us.
- We do not become sinners because we sin, but because we are sinners, we sin.
3. Struggle with sin is an existential reality for all humans – even for the disciples of Christ (Rom. 7:21-23):
While in the first section, Apostle Paul has established that we have died to the law through the death of Christ and that we have been reconciled to God, in this section, he talks about the struggles with sinful desires. He writes in verse 21 that though he wants to do good, evil is dominant in me.
Some have interpreted this as having two natures inside us: good nature and bad. Some have also tried to explain this illustration through white dog and a black dog. But Apostle Paul is not trying to argue for two natures within the bodies of Christ-followers. On the contrary, he is saying that though a Christ-follower has been reconciled with God through Christ and have become a new creation, yet ‘Sin’ (like a virus) is still present in the members of the physical body – that wages war against what is God’s will for the believer (verse 23).
Since ‘Sin’ is like a different entity living inside the bodies of Christ-followers, that causes to violate God’s purposes, Apostle Paul says in verse 17 that “it is no longer I myself who do it but it is sin living in me.”
This description sounds very discouraging. Right? Does it mean that as long as we live in our bodies, we shall never be able to have a victorious life? Does it mean that as Christ-followers, we will always keep on sinning? Thankfully, Apostle Paul did not stop just at chapter 7, but he moved to chapter 8.
4. Is there any possibility to overcome this sinful nature? (Rom 8:5-6): Yes, it is possible through the Holy Spirit with whom the lives of Christ-followers have been sealed (Eph. 1:13).
I believe that our minds are where spiritual battles are fought. Apostle Paul is saying that when a follower of Christ constantly focuses on what the Holy Spirit desires us to do (Rom. 8:5), we live a life that pleased God (Rom. 8:8).
Yes, ‘Sin’ will continue to remain in the members of body until we live in our bodies, but as Christ-followers we have a possibility to live that pleases God – through constantly focusing on what the Holy Spirit desires us to and through constantly making a choice to execute the desires of the Holy Spirit.
Dr Vikas Ram is a Researcher based in Bangalore.
Photo by www.lambsongs.co.nz